The California Buyer Purchasing Power Index (BPPI) figure remains deeply negative, at -10.7 in the third quarter (Q3) of 2023. This figure tells us a homebuyer with the same income is able to borrow 10.7% less purchase-assist mortgage money than a year ago when mortgage interest rates were well into their rise from historic lows.

While Q3 2023’s BPPI figure remains negative, it continues a consistent march upward from the basement levels reached at the end of 2022. Previously, the BPPI was positive during 2019-2021 due to lower mortgage interest rates. Now, as the negative BPPI gradually rises to zero in 2023, it won’t be due to lower rates. Rather, the zero-level BPPI will reflect the “normalizing” of mortgage rates at higher levels for homebuyers.

In Q2 2021 with the 30-year FRM rate at a low 2.7%, consider a household which qualified to borrow $364,000 to fund the purchase of a home. Today with the 30-year FRM rate at 7.2%, this same household qualifies to borrow just $229,000 — 37% less money to fund the purchase of the same home. Critically, a homebuyer’s borrowing capacity sets what they can pay for a home with a zero to 15% down payment.

Mathematically, home prices received by sellers must absorb the change in borrowed funds available to buyers — based on FRM rates and 31% of a buyer’s gross income. When FRM rates drop, seller pricing moves up rapidly, taking around 12 months to fully absorb the additional funding; when FRM rates increase, seller pricing moves down slowly, taking 24-to-36 months to absorb the reduction in funds available to buyers, called the sticky price syndrome.

The impact to homebuyer mortgage funding has been devastating — and the inevitable shockwave to home prices arrived in mid-2022, pushing prices to rapidly implode. More acutely, the abrupt spike in home prices in 2021 was certain to be followed by a sudden and equal drop in prices as the pandemic stimulus of abnormally low mortgage rates was eliminated and normal bond market mortgage rate conditions returned.

Chart update 10/02/23

Q3 2023Q2 2023Q3 2022
Buyer Purchasing Power Index (BPPI) -10.7-11.0-31.3

The BPPI foreshadows home price movement

As the BPPI declines, so goes support for home prices.

In this decade’s rising mortgage rate environment, it is the seller who participates in the home sales market who is adversely affected as their equity melts away. Buyers pay the same monthly payment for shelter maxed out at 31% of their gross income; mortgage lenders pick up increased portfolio yields capturing in interest earnings a present value (PV) equivalent to the seller’s reduced equity.

Homebuyers qualify for a maximum mortgage amount based on:

  • their incomes and savings; and
  • shifting interest rates.

Thus, any rise in mortgage rates instantly cuts the amount of capital funding homebuyers can borrow, and in turn the price they pay for a home is reduced. Sellers are slowly discovering, as are sellers’ agents, that the math of interest rates for borrowed capital leaves all property worth less in price.

At the outset of the pandemic in 2020, mortgage rates descended to historic lows due to Fed efforts to stimulate spending by:

  • inducing home refinancing for owners to pull cash — the ATM effect — and
  • funding purchase-assist mortgages to support real estate prices and sales volume.

Then, in 2022, the Fed stopped its pandemic mortgage market activities. Mortgage rates rapidly increased to make their mark on home sales volume, freezing over the market momentum built up during the Pandemic Economy.

Here in California, home prices began to decline on a monthly basis in mid-2022. As of July 2023, average California home prices are down — off 2% for low-tier and off 6% for high-tier — from their May 2022 peak. Absent 2023’s modest spring price bounce, this home price decline will resume and inventory for sale will increase heading into 2024.

Related article:

Buyer purchasing power determines home prices — always

The Fed and the bond market influence mortgage rates

To end its pandemic period monetary policy of funding and setting interest rates on home mortgages, the Federal Reserve (the Fed) exited the mortgage-backed bond (MBB) market at the end of 2021.

On exiting, the funding and setting     of fixed rate mortgage (FRM) rates returned to the bond market. This resulted in a jump in mortgage rates to match bond market MBB yields which, unlike Fed funding, are based on the 10-year Treasury Note rate plus a risk premium rate presently set at double historic norms in anticipation of a recessionary rise in mortgage defaults.

The result of all the pandemic fiscal and monetary stimulus of 2020-2021 caused consumer inflation to vastly exceed the Fed’s target of 2%. To rein in and tamp down excess consumer inflation, the Fed bumped up their benchmark rate several times in 2022, with more to come in 2023 and 2024. This directly increased interest rates on adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs).

Further, interest rates on long-term debt obligations, such as the 30-year FRM, used to calculate the BPPI, reflect bond market investor perceptions about the level of success the Fed will achieve in their fight to lower consumer inflation and that fight’s effect on investment opportunities in the near future. When the Fed quickly succeeds in its fight to normalize consumer inflation — as began to appear heading into 2023 — bond market investors accept lower yields, and FRM rates taper slightly. FRM rates did slip before the Fed stalled its inflation fight mid-2023, and will slip again on the Fed’s return trip on the path to 2% consumer inflation.

Related article:

The Federal Reserve’s impact on mortgage rates

While mortgage rates skyrocketed in the first three quarters of 2022, they were slashing buyer purchasing power. This brought on a cascade of altered buyer behavior — fueled in part by seller resistance to pricing adjustments — resulting in a low level of need for real estate services. This attitude will worsen until agents discover that an endless variety of reports with disclosures about all aspects of a property’s condition will actually attract buyers in a recession.

However, as the consumer inflation rate trends back toward 2% expect the BPPI to return to near zero at the start of 2024, and the 10-year T-Note and mortgage rates to edge downward slightly for a dip in 2024 and 2025.

Still, the long-term outlook for the BPPI is a decades’ long period of remaining below zero, as mortgage rates resume their rise with the economic recovery, likely to gain strength around 2026. Until then, sellers and their agents can expect continued downward pressure on home prices. Relatedly, equity in mortgage property will decline by an amount exceeding the principal reduction in 30-year mortgage payments on originations during the past 10 years.

The housing market will see declining sales volume and prices in 2023-2024, with prices bottoming as early as 2025. Watch for a return of real estate speculators by 2025 to stop the price decline and provide a “dead cat” bounce during the slump, with a sustainable recovery taking off with the return of end user homebuyers around 2026-2027.

Planning for the next several years in real estate transactions will require patience and a very different approach to the past decade of recovery economics driven by rate decreases.

About the BPPI

The Buyer Purchasing Power Index (BPPI) is calculated using the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage (FRM) rate from Freddie Mac (Western region) and the median income in California.

positive index number means buyers can borrow more money this year than one year earlier.

negative index figure translates to a reduced amount of mortgage funds available.

An index of zero means there was no year-over-year change in the amount a buyer can borrow with the same income. At a BPPI of zero, homebuyers cannot purchase at higher prices than one year before unless they resort to adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) to extend their borrowing reach or greater down payment amounts.

As the long-term BPPI trend declines, the capacity of buyers to borrow purchase-assist funds is reduced. In turn, buyers needing purchase-assist financing on average can only pay a lesser price for a home.

To keep the inventory of homes-for-sale moving at a optimal turnover pace, sellers on the advise of their agents will need to lower prices to accommodate buyer purchasing power or pull their properties off the market.

Proactive listing agents may need to fire sellers who harbor deal-killing illusions of past pricing.

first tuesday journal online is a real estate news source. It provides analyses and forecasts for the California real estate market, and has done so since 1978.